Here’s News: Shoes Lose

It’s probably nigh unto heretical to say so, but despite my stereotypical feminine admiration for shoes and my not-so-secret desire to own a zillion pairs of pretty ones, I seldom bend so far as to wear any that aren’t mighty comfortable in real life. Why, I have been known to fall right off of them and skin my precious knees whenever there was a handy hole in the pavement to snag my heel in for such purposes. But I hate pain, even the relatively minor pain of standing upright in high heels, so I really don’t often put myself in such danger.

In a similar vein, at times I am willing to go so far as to put on a little eyeliner, or suck in my gut to get a too-tight waistband to zip, or even give myself a semi-polished pedicure when I’m wearing sandals, but if time is pressed or I’m not in the mood, I’ll certainly never be bothered with such efforts. I feel more than a little ridiculous when I’m dolled up very far, and mostly I’m much too cheap and lazy and, well, un-girly, I guess, to enjoy the process, the expense or the artificiality of being ultra-feminine. Plus, there’s the risk of the people who know me best having a heart attack if I go all ruffly and spangly on ’em. That would just be mean and selfish on my part.Drawing + text: Shoes Lose

It’s Good to Set a Poor Example

photosI’ve been looking through a batch of old photos, ones taken at the home where my partner and I lived in our first years together, and find it quite striking how time changes my attitudes. Yes, of course, my tastes change dramatically as time goes by, like everyone else’s, and sometimes when I look at old photos (of house, hair, habit–) I am mortified, sometimes I’m mystified, and much of the time I’m just too busy falling all over myself laughing at my ridiculousness to worry much about it all. This time, however, as I looked at my pictures I was struck rather pointedly by another aspect of surprise in revisiting what had once been familiar almost to the edge of invisibility.photosThe photos looked remarkably foreign. It felt a little odd that I’d forgotten so much so completely in a relatively small number of years; is my personal fad-of-the-moment so shallow that it’s obliterated from my memory the instant it’s not in front of me anymore? Well, yes, probably so. I know when we downsized significantly to move from that place we sold or gave away tons, including beloved antique and heirloom items that I feared I’d regret losing, yet in truth hardly ever even thought about again afterward. But the stronger effect was that I am amazed to remember now, on seeing this former home of ours, how much of its DIY character and even the design choices I made were directed and colored by the modesty of our income. Just as I had never clued in when growing up that my family wasn’t rich because I wanted for nothing truly important (thanks, Mom and Dad, for the choices you made!), I never thought of it in those terms either when my husband and I lived in our first together-house–au contraire! I was happy that not only did we live in a place that reflected our tastes and comfort level and our own labors but our friends and family seemed to enjoy visiting there, feel at ease there too, and even admire it as a nice place. No one would ever have mistaken it for upscale, palatial or a showplace, but its humble charms seemed to be more than enough for us to feel glad of it.photosPeople even hired me to do design (interior, objects, exterior and garden) projects based on what they liked of my work in, at and on our home. I was asked to allow a garden club to tour our yard the year after I had it bulldozed and reinvented it to my own tastes. I got hired to redecorate and consult on homes and offices and churches. Was it the swanky air of chic pouring out over every windowsill and sprouting in every flowerbed of our home, the hipness of our up-to-the-minute styling? Certainly not. But would I ever hesitate to invite any trustworthy person who came to the door to come in and make him- or herself at home or fear that I would be unkindly judged or seem uncool? No, even in my shyest and most anxiety-ridden moments, my insecurity never moved outside of my own being: I have always been confident of the niceness of my nests.photosThing is, I was most taken aback by recognizing in these old pictures a home happily occupied by a couple of people getting by on teachers’ incomes and setting up our grand estate on the masses of free time afforded by our having two full-time teaching jobs, his having two additional ‘outside’ choir gigs and my doing extracurricular commissioned design and art projects. As an adjunct faculty member I was in the familiar position of working over a decade full-time before getting to the pay level of the New Kid who came into the department that year straight out of grad school into an assistant professorial position (and I got to argue plenty for a huge percentage raise in my paycheck just to scrape up to that point)–those of you who have worked in higher education know full well what I’m talking about and also why teachers rarely work ‘only’ the fabled nine-month year of the academic calendar without having to supplement by taking side and summer jobs. Still, we were most certainly affluent compared to many, just not in that fairytale way of Having Money to Throw Around.photosSo the intriguing thing I saw in these photos was that much of my fanciful decorator achievements were then, as now, created by use of the designer’s equivalent of sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors. DIY. And lots of throws, slipcovers, repurposed and recycled and upcycled goodies of every sort. All of this to say that, far from being ashamed at the obvious poverty of my resources, I was and am proud of finding ways to make whatever I do have the best it can be and making my surroundings better with what I can manage. Nowadays I tend to think in those terms less because I actually can’t afford the more extravagant approach and more because I’d rather do it in a way that conserves and respects the resources more fully. And because I’m enough of a snob to know by now that what rich people consider Simplifying or Conservatism or Mindfulness is a far cry from the poor person’s point of view. The beauty of Home lies far less in decorative statements than in clean, secure shelter, in warm hospitality and kind hearts. If being impecunious can be motivational, then why indeed not do it well!photos

Penny for My Thoughts

digital painting of a photoNot to Worry, There’s More in the Bank

Do not despair that I have set low price

Upon my intellect and all its blooms,

Its wild embellishments, creative rooms

Filled full with every possible device

Invention and intelligence can build–

My brilliance shedding dazzling insights far

As light can travel from the largest star–

My memory mansion’s rooms are this far filled,

And yet I charge a pittance, just a cent,

For all the riches I have made to date,

And fling them with abandon, though so great,

Along the curb beneath your pediment.

Why would I cast my wealth thus at your feet?

Like pennies, I am also obsolete.

What’s-in-My-Kitchen Week, Day 1: Cheap Organizational Tricks

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A selection of inexpensive reusable plastic containers serves not only for food storage but for a multitude of small miscellany–kind of like my stomach and my brain, but probably in a far more effective sense.

Since I spent my anniversary hauling everything out of my kitchen cabinets, scrubbing everything down, and reorganizing about 90% of the kitchen’s contents, I shall give myself the pat on the back of showing off a bit. Mainly, in reality, because I was struck yet again on doing this necessary and not entirely unpleasant (thank you, Results) task at how much benefit is got from the process and how little it needs to cost besides effort and a tiny bit of ingenuity. The sort that comes from use and practice, in fact. And because when I rein in my high-end urges I often find it satisfying that my inner (and too often, very well hidden) miser can make a positive difference in my life.

Let me explain.

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In the lower cabinets facing the kitchen table, a ‘breakfast center’ of the simplest sort for guests who want morning tea, coffee, toast or cereal (the latter goes on the empty middle shelf when grocery shopping has occurred again!). At the bottom is a bucket of birdseed for our avian guest who might appear at any time on the patio just on the other side of the table, a box of lightbulbs and a seldom-used steamer dish.

The biggest thing about cleanup and re-org is that it satisfies my inherently neatnik soul. Though I crave tidiness generally, I can be as sloppy and untidy and dirty as the next person, especially when, as now, there are projects afoot–and underfoot. We are having some work done on a widely dispersed set of items that take the mess all around our house despite the majority of the individual projects’ being relatively small. A back door adjustment, where last month’s under-slab hot water leak led to re-plumbing the line to bypass the slab by going up and through the attic, which in turn led to the soil under the slab drying out, settling into the void left by the leak, and pinning the nearby exterior door frame shut. Removal of three horribly outdated and worn countertops and sinks and faucets in two bathrooms for replacement–and waiting, sink-less, for the new stuff to arrive. Getting the living room wall put back together after it was disassembled to run that new plumbing line down for reconnection after the leak about fifteen feet away was repaired. And pulling the old kitchen cooktop out to replace it with new.

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Another set of lower cabinets houses the large pots and the small appliances. It’s amazing how much putting a few of the latter into a clean, open-topped cardboard shipping box can do to keep the space from getting ridiculously cluttered by ‘floating’ parts and cords.

This latter, necessitated by the persistent crabbiness of the mistress of the kitchen about having a wildly un-level cooker, each burner skewing a different direction so that none could offer an even surface for a pan and finally, only two of the four actually, well, burning. So I was more than willing to forgo having any functional cooktop for the short term, thinking that it was not terribly different from having had a barely semi-functional one for the two years since we moved in here. Tomorrow we expect the stonemason and his crew to be in to install our new bathroom sink counters, and he will re-cut the cooktop opening to fit the slightly deeper configuration of the new appliance.

In the meantime, it was essential to pull out the drawers directly underneath the cooker for removal and replacement access. And there you have your ‘trigger’–the moment when it becomes clear that once a half-dozen dominoes of order have been tipped in the house, the rest will soon follow. As they did. The immediate effect of pulling out the drawers was a reminder that as neat as I can be at times, the world and our actions in it fill up the neatest of spaces with bits of detritus; things shift in moving drawers until they are nestled invisibly in odd corners and buried under other things, and stuff entirely forgotten as soon as it was put away and out of sight may be well past its shelf-life, if not the half-life of radium. In short: time to clean and reorganize thoroughly once again.

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Sometimes it’s the littlest things that please me most: having airtight plastic boxes to keep tea sachets together and fresh, and a cheap little plastic basket to keep the boxes proximal and easy to carry to the breakfast table, and a quick scribble on the boxes to remind me what the heck I’ve kept in stock–that makes breakfast time ever so much more relaxed.

Being a visually oriented magpie and loving things to look ‘right’ and living within moderate means can work at decidedly cross purposes from time to time. What I have begun to acknowledge as useful wisdom in my encroaching antiquity is that there are places I can compromise comfortably on having everything look (my definition of) perfect or designer-coordinated or fancy-schmancy or otherwise idealized. One simple rule for me is to remember that what is in a drawer, a cupboard or a closet does not get seen when the drawers and doors are properly closed between uses. If they are neat, clean and practical enough in their order for my purposes when open and in use, they needn’t be expensively or extravagantly stored, only tidily and securely. So although I may cock my glinting magpie eye with a tinge of lust at those magnificent custom closet installations and the exquisitely artful antique containers that fill some people’s pantries and the fantastic item-specific systems adorning someone’s million-dollar shed or garage, I look for a way to repurpose the extant and then ‘shop low’–look at the thrift stores and dollar-an-item bonanzas for bargains before I look elsewhere.

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Another tea-basket, this one with the sugars for visitors’ tea *and* coffee, lives by the first and by the one with the instant coffee–that, more for flavoring my cookery than for drinking, since most guests happily prefer using the French press or drip coffeemakers that I keep handy nearby.

Even this is hardly necessary for the quality of life. I know that plenty of people manage to keep their belongings in check by merely tending them carefully enough and placing them wisely enough that they are where they should be, in the required condition and easy to get and use at all times. I, on the other hand, find that grouping things with their fellows helps me immensely in having a sense of order and functionality and to survive the intermittent bombed-out adventures of a project taking over any part of house or life. So I love to find well-suited containers that fit the occasion and the objects and go forth from there with my space-arranging efforts.

To be Continued!